Tax Incentives for Higher Education
The tax code provides a variety of tax incentives for families who are paying higher education costs or are repaying student loans. You may be able to claim an American Opportunity Credit (formerly called the Hope Credit) or Lifetime Learning Credit for the qualified tuition and related expenses of the students in your family (i.e. you, your spouse, or dependent) who are enrolled in eligible educational institutions. Different rules apply to each credit and the ability to claim the credit phases out at higher income levels.
If you don’t qualify for the credit, you may be able to claim the “tuition & fees deduction” for qualified educational expenses. You cannot claim this deduction if your filing status is married filing separately or if another person can claim an exemption for you as a dependent on his or her tax return. This deduction phases out at higher income levels.
You may be able to deduct interest you pay on a qualified student loan. The deduction is claimed as an adjustment to income so you do not have to itemize your deductions on Schedule A Form 1040. However, this deduction is also phased out at higher income levels.
Check Withholding to Avoid a Tax Surprise
If you owed tax last year or received a large refund you may want to adjust your tax withholding. Owing tax at the end of the year could result in penalties being assessed. On the other end, if you had a large refund you lost out on having the money in your pocket throughout the year. Changing jobs, getting married or divorced, buying a home or having children can all result in changes in your tax calculations.
The IRS withholding calculator on IRS.gov can help compute the proper tax withholding. The worksheets in ‘Publication 919, How Do I Adjust My Withholding?’ can also be used to do the calculation. If the result suggests an adjustment is necessary, you can submit a new W-4, Withholding Allowance Certificate, to your employer.
5 Tips for Early Preparation
Earlier is better when it comes to working on your taxes. The IRS encourages everyone to get a head start on tax preparation. Not only do you avoid the last-minute rush, early filers also get a faster refund.
There are five easy ways to get a good jump on your taxes long before the April 15 deadline rolls around:
- Gather your records in advance. Make sure you have all the records you need, including W-2s and 1099s. Don’t forget to save a copy for your files.
- Get the right forms. They’re available around the clock on IRS.gov in the Forms and Publications section.
- Take your time. Don’t forget to leave room for a coffee break when filling out your tax return. Rushing can mean making a mistake — and that can be expensive!
- Double-check your math and Social Security number. These are among the most common errors on tax returns. Taking care on these reduces your chances of hearing from the IRS.
- Get the fastest refund. When you file early, you get your refund faster. Using e-filing with direct deposit gets you a refund in half the time as paper filing.
Oops! You’ve discovered an error after your tax return has been filed. What should you do? You may need to amend your return.
The IRS usually corrects math errors or requests missing forms (such as W-2s) or schedules. In these instances, do not amend your return. However, do file an amended return if any of the following were reported incorrectly:
- Your filing status
- Your total income
- Your deductions or credits
- Use Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, to correct a previously filed paper or electronically-filed Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040EZ return. Be sure to enter the year of the return you are amending at the top of Form 1040X. If you are amending more than one tax return, use a separate 1040X for each year and mail each in a separate envelope to the IRS processing center for your state. The 1040X instructions list the addresses for the centers.
Form 1040X has three columns. Column A is used to show original or adjusted figures from the original return. Column C is used to show the corrected figures. The difference between the figures in Columns A and C is shown in Column B. You should explain the items you are changing and the reason for each change on the back of the form.
If the changes involve another schedule or form, attach it to the 1040X. For example, if you are filing a 1040X because you have a qualifying child and now want to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, you must complete and attach a Schedule EIC to the amended return.
If you are filing to claim an additional refund, wait until you have received your original refund before filing Form 1040X. You may cash that check while waiting for any additional refund. If you owe additional tax for the prior year, Form 1040X must be filed and the tax paid by April 15 of this year, to avoid any penalty and interest.
You generally must file Form 1040X to claim a refund within three years from the date you filed your original return, or within two years from the date you paid the tax, whichever is later. Please contact us for more!
Ayuda en Espanol
If you need federal tax information, the IRS provides free Spanish language products and services. Pages on the IRS.gov, pre-recorded tax topics, refund information, tax publications and toll-free telephone assistance are all available in the Spanish-language. The Spanish-language page (http://www.irs.gov/espanol/index.html) on this web site has links to tax information such as forms and publications, warnings about tax scams that victimize taxpayers, information on the Earned Income, child and various other tax credits, and more. This year, information on tax return filing is conveniently organized and links to additional publications are added. Look for a new interactive tool called EITC Assistant to help you learn if you are eligible to receive the Earned Income Tax Credit.
TeleTax is a toll-free, automated telephone service available in English and Spanish. TeleTax provides helpful pre-recorded tax topic messages and refund information. You can find a list of more than 150 TeleTax topics in the instructions for Form 1040, 1040A or 1040EZ. TeleTax can also help you if it has been at least four weeks since you filed your tax return and you want to check on the status of your federal refund. Having a copy of the tax return handy will help you respond to the prompts on the automated system. TeleTax is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-829-4477. on this web site has links to tax information such as forms and publications, warnings about tax scams that victimize taxpayers, information on the Earned Income, child and various other tax credits, and more. This year, information on tax return filing is conveniently organized and links to additional publications are added. Look for a new interactive tool called EITC Assistant to help you learn if you are eligible to receive the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Filing an Extension
If you can’t meet the April 15 deadline to file your tax return, you can get an automatic six-month extension of time to file from the IRS. The extension will give you extra time to get the paperwork into the IRS, but it does not extend the time you have to pay any tax due. You will owe interest on any amounts not paid by the April deadline, plus a late payment penalty if you have paid less than 90 percent of your total tax by that date.
You must make an accurate estimate of any tax due when you request an extension. You may also send a payment for the expected balance due, but this is not required to obtain the extension.
To get the automatic extension, file Form 4868, Application for Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, with the IRS by the April 15 deadline, or make an extension-related electronic payment. You can file your extension request by phone or by computer, or mail the paper Form 4868 to the IRS.
You can file Form 4868 by phone anytime through April 15. You will need to provide certain information from your federal income tax return. The special toll-free phone number is 1-888-796-1074. Use Form 4868 as a worksheet to prepare for the call and have a copy of your federal income tax return available.
The system will give you a confirmation number to verify that the extension request has been accepted. Put this confirmation number on your copy of Form 4868 and keep it for your records. Do not send the form to the IRS. As this is the area of our expertise, please contact us for more detailed information on how to file an extension properly!